The KY6R FT8 Station!

My “second” station is 100% dedicated to all things Maker, Ham Maker and FT8. On the screen is WSJTX running on the Tinkerboard (huge thanks to Mike, KJ4Z for saving me a lot of time trying WSJTX on Raspberry Pi) and instead, going to the Tinkerboard – it truly smokes the Pi for apps like this.

The Tinkerboard is in front of the keyboard, and the KX3 and PX3 are just below the oscilloscope. This weekend I am hoisting a dedicated antenna for this second FT8 station – and it will either be a ladder line fed vertical dipole – hanging down from a giant spruce tree, or a 70′ wire vertical fed against 96 radials. I’m leaning toward the 70′ half wave vertical dipole because I think 40 and 30M would be perfect for FT8 – especially since it just might turn out that my only 3Y0Z QSO could be on FT8 – if conditions take a dump while they are on Bouvet.

But I’m doing this more because this is Ham Radio V2.0 all the way in this second station. Its 100% Linux (Raspian), QRP, Wire and ready to be combined with Maker projects.

The first station will be dedicated to Ham Radio V1.0.

So. I’m dedicated to the past and the future . . .


FT8: Ham Radio V2.0 Personified

Now that I have the Field Strength Meter working as it should, its time to get on FT8, but do it using the Asus Tinkerboard. I will be upping the ante by using the Asus Tinkerboard following Mike, KJ4Z’s instructions:

I’ll also set the KX3 up to be the rig that works with the Tinkerboard. In fact, I’ll set them up at the Maker desk – not the ham radio desk in the shack. Why? Because I think FT8 represents an amateur radio Brave New World.

I have been watching the FT8 action and feel the need to get in on the action – and NOT because of DXCC or chasing new one’s using a new mode, but just for the “advancement of the radio art”. The “convergence” of technologies has me more excited than when I started DXing in 2001. The possibilities are only limited by my imagination. The “staleness” of just waiting for entities that I need DXCC wise is washed away because I now have lots of little projects to work on – both Ham Radio V1.0 and V2.0. One day the Mod Bob (V1) next day the URAT (V2), make a 160M new one contact (V1), the next day the 1979 Field Strength Meter (V1), the next day FT8 and Tinkerboard (V2). So I don’t see any of this as black and white – I see it as a continuum.

Several friends and I have been chatting about FT8 and we have been amazed at how fast its caught on – this is the biggest thing to happen in ham radio in years. It will prove to have been a very serious turning point – even more significant than Remotes. Here is a list of the implications of FT8:

  1. At first, FT8 will seem like SSB did when it supplanted AM – but on steroids. It will feel like its “ruining ham radio” to some, but will end up being that one thing that might just save ham radio. Yes, I am being dramatic and a bit facetious, but there is a thread of truth to this “faux lament” as well. Nothing is ruined – the OOT’s can still do their V1.0 thing, but a whole new world has opened up, and its perfect timing too. Hams need to demonstrate FT8 at Makers Faires! V2.0 is surely here, and I’m very excited
  2. With FT8, you can run low power and have a compromised antenna and be fully in the game. Prior to FT8 – if you didn’t have a “decent” station, you would not be able to play in the big boys (persons) games – like DXCC Honor Roll or other big deal challenges and operating activities. One thing that will always drive ham radio operators is “bragging rights” – this is something to not underestimate.Oh – and you can still do CW and SSB and RTTY whenever you like – hi hi
  3. Because of FT8, you do not have to spend so much money on ham radio. There are already people running inexpensive SDR QRP rigs with inexpensive single board computers and a simple antenna as their entire station. Cost will no longer be a barrier to entry and young people will be able to enter and with the huge advantage that its a technical pursuit that jives with a career move into IT and or electronics and engineering, and this is a repeat of me wanting to become an EE at age 13 but my fathers friend changing my mind to IT when I was 15 or 16 when he plopped an Imsai computer on our kitchen table, and true to “The Graduate” told me that computer programming was the future and to avoid being an EE. I followed his advice and have been the better for it. My fantasy EE job is now my hobby – so I get to do it all any way, and the convergence of Single Board Computers and Electronics projects means things have come full circle. For me – this is THE golden age of ham radio – not whatever I have done in the past
  4. The Maker community will now really have an entry point. In fact, I hope we get inundated by Makers in Ham Radio now. This will be the single most important way to ensure Ham Radio “V2.0” . . .
  5. FT8 kills the reason for anyone to get upset about remotes. In a way, it saves DXCC because it is WAY cheaper to still use something like a KX2 or KX3 and a laptop and simple antenna than to pay for remotes – even if that remote is your own remote station. Heck – I am very interested in using my Smart phone at work to remote into my KX3 and Tinkerboard at home and watch whats going on FT8 wise – so a new world opens up there . . .
  6. 3Y0Z might be your first ATNO where you were only able to work them on FT8 – if conditions tank as we get closer to sunspot minima
  7. DXpeditions could now have a robotic 24×7 operator who never gets tired or has to pee

I understand how some may believe that something like DXCC will never be the same any more because we didn’t all tough it out with any “assists” be it remotes or FT8 making “robot” QSO’s. DXCC may actually be saved by FT8 because when the sunspot cycle is at the bottom – you will miss out on extremely rare entities as I did with 3Y0E and FT5GA. If we had FT8, I might have made those contacts – both at the bottom of the cycle. My 20M Moxon up 30′ would have been enough and with 100 watts or less, where with the “Way its always been done”, I was toast and I missed these. The big problem with this is that having a hobby where you have to wait 20 years is something that while may give you certain bragging rights – for me (who has patience but with limits), the danger in waiting too long is that I would drop out of the hobby all together because it just seemed “boring”. Also – when the Baby Boomers age and go SK – if DXCC doesn’t attract younger hams – then it will reach its shelf life anyway.

From 1977 – 2001 ham radio seemed boring, so there was a precedent in my life where I just dropped out completely. Now – take young people – they do not have the patience I have, and would rather play with Maker boards and radio and DX and whatever and maybe continuously change their station – just because. Socially, FT8 moves the emphasis from sitting there operating like with CW or even SSB, and offers something perfectly suited to young people interested in technology.

This is really a big deal.


I’m using the simple 1979 “RF Sniffer” circuit and I’ve found that the minus line of the meter does add a lot of signal when you plug in a test lead and use it as a radial / ground plane.

One really great use is to see how much radiation emanates from an amplifier at various power levels, and where the “drop off” is in your operating position. The SPE Expert 1.3K-FA does seem to be shielded well, the drop off is before my body and head – and of course is very low on the MID and LOW power settings. In the HIGH setting, with the sensitivity all the way up on the FSM and with a ground plane I am reading some RF at my head and face.

The other interesting thing is that 160M has a low reading on the FSM, but 40M offers a very good range. This makes sense since its a wide band receiver of sorts – in fact, its similar to a “cat whisker” radio we all built when we were kids with a 1N34A diode and a coil and wire antenna.

It works very, very well with a hand held 2M/440 HT, and also works on all the bands on 40M up. I did not test 80M, but see that the antenna length and ground plane do effect the sensitivity. In fact, it seems as though I am getting a much bigger dose of RF from the HT than the amplifier, which is interesting.

I wired two banana plugs across the meter so I can use it with my oscilloscope or DVM, and I am getting readings on both pieces of test equipment, but I really need to dig into the Tutorial on oscilloscopes that I have. The DVM showed .1 volt DC being picked up when I transmitted using the amp on MAX power. The HT was a whopping 3.2 volts – and the FSM meter was pegged. I did not register anything from my cell phone – which seems a bit strange. I figure this FSM acts as an RF probe, and even a way to check RF radiation as it might affect your health – so that’s very useful and fun.

Its interesting, but I’m finding even little circuits that you an build get you thinking and asking questions. Here are a few:

  1. What other variations of this circuit might I try? I’m guessing that the other circuit that I have will work better on 160M because it front ends what I have now with a tuned circuit
  2. How might I use my oscilloscope with this FSM, and what can I measure?

The uses so far that really make this a great little box:

  1. Check RF fall off from an amplifier and where there is the most radiation
  2. Check to see if a transmitter is working and an antenna is radiating
  3. Plot actual patterns off antennas and check interaction between my two vertical arrays – and see how the closer verticals interact

There will be more, but for such a simple and inexpensive toy – its turning out to give me more than I expected and is a fun thing to play with and learn.

KY6R FSM Works!

Since I don’t have a spec sheet for the cool Simpson NOS VU meter, I was a little nervous that it might not register much movement or perhaps be overloaded.

It turns out that in this circuit, it’s perfect with the 10K pot which sets it’s range very nicely.

Ok, I’ll solder it and button it up tomorrow night. This breadboard experiment is a huge success.

Amateur Radio 2.0 (A talk by Ward Silver, N0AX)

Mike, KJ4Z and I have had regular conversations regarding old and new ham radio. Mike found a superb talk by N0AX, Ward Silver at a TAPR convention a few years ago:

Ward’s talk hit on so many points that Mike and I have discussed that its almost as if we had heard his talk before we both started blogging about this. Ward talks about the technology and social implications and the curmudgeonry (aka “you can’t do that because that’s just not the way its always been done”).

I’m giving two presentations at Pacificon – Lowband Antennas which will introduce the URAT idea, but will be centered more on the “Mod-Bob”, so in a way is a bit more “Ham Radio 1.0”, and then a second presentation which will be the URAT idea, fully Ham Radio 2.0

Ward says this, and I am 1000% in agreement:

“Outreach is critical. Every aspect of technology and it development must have a component of outreach. It is no longer sufficient for us to just play in our basements”.

Slight paraphrasing, but while blogging is one thing, I feel that I need to contribute to the future of ham radio by presenting at Pacificon. I have given two presentations so far this year at EBARC, so I do get out there several times a year.

Mike and I have endured all of the curmudgeonry that Ward talks about in the beginning of his talk, and our response, whether it was during VK0EK or Remote discussions or anything else that seemed to threaten the Ham Radio 1.0 crowd was to combine Ham Radio 1.0 and Ham Radio 2.0 and just keep moving forward.

It’s really great to get validation in the form of this talk. 

Ward also discusses new technologies and future possibilities that touch on some thoughts I have had but have been loathe to write about. Here is one such thought:

DX-ing and DXpeditions will continue, but how the game is played will more and more become a Ham Radio 2.0 thing. I did not have that 2.0 “upgrade” idea in my thoughts – so thanks to Ward, I now can sift through some of my thoughts more clearly.

The advent of Remotes has changed everything. For the first time ever (and I am sure I will sound like a real radio prude), the other day I wanted to hear what 160M sounded like in EU – especially since I have never heard the 5T5OK station from my home station. I did in fact hear them on a Swedish contest station. No – I did not make a contact this way because of the second part of my thoughts in this regard:

I want to “close out” my DXCC chase with the last 2 towards Top of Honor Roll and the last 12 on 160M, and then hang up my DXCC spurs for good. When I accomplish this “last mile” I will be switching to Ham Radio 2.0 and then 3.0. I have heard some DXers, especially on the low band chat claim that DXCC is meaningless because of remotes.

I disagree since you don’t compete with others, you compete against yourself. But I would agree that it’s the dawning of a new day, and it’s only bad if you let it be that way.

DXCC was created during the early days of Ham Radio 1.0, and I feel (as some others have groused about) – that Remotes have changed the game. Sure – you can stick to Ham Radio 1.0 as I have to accomplish DXCC whatever, but I have felt that the combination of aging baby boomers and new technologies have changed the game in a way that makes me feel like the days when I started DXing in 2001 are now over. I have to work really hard to try to stay stuck in the past – with ham radio 1.0, but this has been at philosophical odds since my career has been based on “move on or die”. If I had the same attitude about computer programming and systems – I would have become unemployable.

At about the 51 minute mark of Ward’s talk – he discusses “hybridization”, and I couldn’t agree more. During VK0EK we took this approach and I’m very proud of this. Its just so refreshing to hear someone who is so well known in amateur radio circles discuss this. Don’t get me wrong – I have some of the same feelings about sticking with Ham Radio 1.0, but the march of time has me now ready for Ham Radio 2.0.

Its why I jumped head first into the URAT project, and why I will be giving one Ham Radio 1.0 (Low Band Antennas) and one Ham Radio 2.0 presentation (URAT) at Pacificon.

Thanks Ward, this may already be 2 years old, but it made my day. And thanks Mike for sharing.

The KY6R Field Strength Meter

My take on the field strength meter is to use an old 1979 October QST circuit, but add a modern twist on the packaging and go with a clear Hammond translucent polycarbonate project box, 1591STCL.

the caps are .01 uf, the diodes 1N34A and the potentiometer 10K

The meter is a beautiful Simpson new old stock VU meter, model 7458.

I’m just waiting on a couple of 1N34A diodes to arrive.

There’s a Chill in the Air . . .

One week ago we drove past Lake Pend O’Reille in northern Idaho – visiting my brother in law as we headed to our last night in the gorgeous Pacific Northwest and Spokane.

Last night we hit 45 degrees (F), and so I wondered what its like where we were just last week – in Montana. Holy smokes – its like Winter there!

On my bike ride home, it was only in the 60’s. I love this weather, and love the autumn light. Luckily, we get autumn from now until just before Christmas. Then we get our rains and Winter weather.